We’ve Become The Media School

In 2015, the Telecommunications Department officially became part of the new Media School at Indiana University. With our new home comes a new blog. Check it out here!


Granny or Grad Student

A few months ago I was enjoying the finest cuisine Bloomington has to offer in the form of Kilroy’s $2 Tuesday quesadillas with a few other penny-pinching grad students. I had eaten my full of the cheesy goodness, so I pulled out the Tupperware I had brought with me, the one I purposefully carried to $2 Tuesdays knowing there would be left overs. I then proceeded to pack away my leftovers and the leftovers of my comrades who hadn’t so brilliantly thought ahead.

It was then that fellow grad student Josh Sites looked at me weird. Getting slightly self-conscience, I said defensively, “What?! I’m a grad student!” as if that would explain what I now realize must have looked like irrational hoarding behavior. “Grad student or granny?” Josh quipped back.

I laughed with him then realizing how much my life has changed in the past two years, how fully I had embraced the grad school life and how that acceptance in many ways aligns my behaviors more with that of senior citizens than of a 20-or-30-something. With that in mind, here are five more behaviors that are proudly shared by grad students and grannies (and grandpas) alike.

1) Clipping coupons for EVERYTHING.

It wasn’t until coming to grad school that I really started to appreciate that infinitely long strip of CVS coupons that come with your receipt. Now I appreciate the money-saving tips my grandma gave me and I clip coupons with glee. I am never satisfied unless I’m saving at least 15% per purchase; although I one day hope to reach the 20% savings mark my grandma manages to hit.

2) Going to bed at 9 pm because you are legitimately tired.

Before grad school, trying to go to bed early usually meant drinking some Valerian tea and listening to soothing wave sounds to convince my body to give in early. Now, sheer mental exhaustion makes it easy to fall asleep at an embarrassingly early 9 pm, just after Jeopardy. Some nights my grandma and I are definitely on the same schedule.

3) Carrying around giant bags with way too much stuff in them.

Whether it is a purse, a backpack or one of those “hip” shoulder bags, grad students all have to carry around bags that are way too big. Just like grannies, you never know when an emergency might strike so you need to carry around all the necessities including: aspirin, Band-Aids, protein bars, Starbucks Double Shot, your Chromebook, red pens, pencils, and an extra notebook. Our bags are more stuffed than Mary Poppins!

4) Wearing “comfortable clothes” all the times.

Grad school is no longer a time of vanity. Much like grannies, we give into the comfort of sweatpants, crocs and buns, which are not only comfortable but practical given the hours upon hours of sitting that are mandatory in grad school.

5) Not understanding today’s youth.

Even though many of us were “the youth” just a few years ago or are still currently clumped into that group by elders, there is something about living in a college town and teaching 18 year-olds, that just makes you shake your head and yell “get off my lawn,” something I actually yelled at a herd of youth who had congregated on my porch over Little 5 weekend. I definitely channel my inner granny on the weekends downtown.

Although sometimes it seems slightly depressing to have gone from “youth” to “granny” in two short years, what grad school has actually taught most of us are the lessons that grannies know well: life is too short to care what other people think of you. So grab your big bag, your crocs and your Tupperware and let’s have a night out on the town … as long as I’m home watching “Murder She Wrote” by 8 pm.

Telecom alumna, Dr. Amanda Lotz, talks TV and her interdisciplinary journey

By: Niki Fritz

According to Dr. Amanda Lotz, the plan wasn’t always academia. She started out as a communications major at DePauw University, interested in management. But after one truly awful internship in the cellular telecom industry, Lotz jokes she “was just horrified by the real world.” She was tossing around the idea of going to law school when a fellow student’s presentation on the impact of medical dramas changed her mind.

“A light bulb went off and I was like ‘Oh, that’s how you talk about TV.’ I applied to grad schools and got into [the Department of Telecommunications at IU],” Lotz says. “The first week of grad school I thought, ‘This is what undergrad would be like if people did the reading.’ I loved it.”

Lotz jokingly referred to her last year as a master’s student at Indiana University as the “year of the divorce.” In 1997, the year Lotz completed her MA, cultural studies faculty left Telecommunications.  But her own studies benefitted from the presence of both social scientific and critical studies faculty in the same department, as she got exposure to both research on industry practices and critical studies. She in particular got interested in gender related questions in course of her studies at IU, which led her to pursue her PhD at the University of Texas in the Department of Radio-Television-Film.

At Texas, Lotz combined feminist critical studies with TV industry practices, a difficult feat considering the constantly changing TV landscape around the turn of the century. While Lotz’s dissertation focused on textual analysis of female characters, right around the time she was finishing her PhD there was an explosion of new female characters such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. After receiving her degree, Lotz spent time reframing her first book, which was based on her dissertation, called “Redesigning Women: Television after the Network Era.”

Lotz landed in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan, where she took on her next big project, “The Television Will Be Revolutionized,” a book which questions the general notion that TV was dying and contemplates the post-network era.

After tenure, Lotz explains that she was able to put more time and energy into projects she wanted like writing a text book on media critique and having children. Eventually, Lotz returned to explore the other side of “Redesigning Women,” the changing role of men in television.

“When I finished writing ‘Redesigning Women,’ I knew I wanted to eventually write a book about men although I didn’t know what it would be about … ‘Cable Guys’ was a trudge. I would reinvent the book every summer when I would think about it,” Lotz explains of the writing process. “Finally I got ‘Cable Guys’ published and then it was time to redo ‘The Television Will Be Revolutionized.’”

Lotz also contributes to the popular press, writing for atenna.com and salon.com.

“You have to jump through enough hurdles to [write opinion pieces],” Lotz says. “For me part of it is the conversations in the field are a little navel gazing. Writing for popular press forced me to think about why this matters. In trying to translate these things to a broader audience, I am trying to participate in the cultural conversation.”

Lotz says for her it always comes back to the questions. She told me of the first time she met Dr. Annie Lang.  It was at the orientation for her incoming class, where Annie asked her “What questions do you want to ask?” Lotz admits that she was a bit intimidated and unsure of her answer.

“I answered something I’m sure but it has taken some time to figure out the answer. I’ve realize it is all about questions,” Lotz explains. “The method and the theory comes later, but the core of it is the questions. That is most fun part of this job.”

Jess and Cosplay: The Journey from Fan Conventions to Academic Conferences

By: Niki Fritz

Before I sat down with Jess Tompkins to talk about her former life as a cosplayer, I had seen pictures of Jess dressed up in amazingly intricate and realistic costumes on Facebook. I had assumed she was just a Halloween enthusiast when these costumes were actually part of a larger and more complex world of media fandom.

Jess started out by explaining that cosplay is not larping; to which I had to ask what larping was.

“As you can probably guess, [cosplay] is an amalgamation of costume and play. It is different from larping (an acronym for ‘live action role playing’). Larping is about being part of a narrative, taking on the role of a character in a story and it often involves physically acting out battles or fights,” Jess explains.

When I continue to look a bit baffled she explained: “[Cosplay] involves making a costume to portray a media character.  Anyone can purchase a costume but most passionate cosplayers want to complete their own costumes, including props, with their own hands. Some cosplayers even make their own costumes with others in a group setting and the costumes are usually worn at a convention. At the fan conventions, it is perfectly acceptable to just walk around in your costume, to pose with other fans and to pose with other characters for pictures.”

We started to flip through her old Facebook photos so I could get a better sense of what these costumes looked like. As we clicked farther and farther back on Jess’s timeline, I began to get curious about how she got involved in this less-than-mainstream world of fandom. Was she drawn to the media or to all the cool convention stuff first?

“I was into the media first. My brother and I were really close when we were teens. I used to watch him play video games and eventually I started to play, too,” Jess says. “We would play a lot of cooperative games together and then I started to venture into what I liked.”

Their hobbies and interests led her and her best friend to the Animazement Convention in Raleigh, NC. It is traditionally an anime convention but has branched out to include video games and comic books as well. It was the summer of 2008 and Jess hadn’t learned to sew yet, so her best friend’s grandma helped her make her first costume for a character from Dynasty Warriors 6 – Yue Ying.

“That was the catalyst moment,” Jess says. “I had a great time [at the Animazement Convention]; I met other people that had the same passion. After that I knew I wanted to do more cosplay and I wanted to make the costumes myself.”

Later that summer, Jess’s aunt bought her a sewing machine and she spent holidays learning to sew, and each year she made progressively more challenging costumes.  At Animazement she was also introduced to another part of the cosplay world: costuming clubs. These organizations usually focus on a particular media franchise.  Members of costuming clubs get together and help each other make costumes, often swapping skills such as sewing and metalworking. Jess was particularly drawn to Star Wars costumes, a franchise she and her brother had been interested in since childhood.

Jess wore her costume to the University of South Carolina for her class on the day she lectured about fan cultures, Fall 2013.

Jess wore her costume to the University of South Carolina on the day she lectured about fan cultures, Fall 2013.

“When I was a teen I spent a lot of time online, usually searching more about Star Wars. When I was about 13 I learned that there is more than the movies. There are more stories about the characters told in video games, comics, and novels. I consumed a lot of the Star Wars ‘expanded universe’,” Jess says. “I really enjoyed those narratives because there was so much more to learn about the characters.”

One character who stood out to her was a little-know bounty hunter named Boba Fett. Although Boba’s role in the official movies is small, he has a deeper narrative in the expanded universe.

“I loved Boba Fett because he was the morally ambiguous bounty hunter,” Jess says. “Like a lot of fans I was drawn to the armor. There was an aura of mystery about him. When I read the books I discovered that there is more to him than just being a bounty hunter.”

Luckily Jess found a group of Mandalorian (the type of armor worn by Boba Fett) enthusiasts in a costume club in North Carolina known as the Mandalorian Mercs, who met once a month for costume parties. The founder, who lived just an hour from Jess, helped her complete some of the complicated metalwork on her custom set of Mandalorian armor.

After completing her costume, Jess was welcomed as an official member of the Mandalorian Mercs costume club. The club often does charity events by dressing up in costumes and requesting donations for pictures. During her undergraduate years, Jess went to about 10 conventions including one of the biggest, Dragon Con in Atlanta. However, as she geared up for grad school in 2012, she realized her life in fandom was about to change.

“The main constraint now is time and money, the two magic ingredients. That was something I realized when I started grad school that I would have to make some sacrifices. Now, instead of a fan convention I am preparing for my first academic conference in May!” Jess says. “It has been an interesting, but exciting, transition. My dream is to be invited as an academic guest-speaker at a fan convention. I look up to scholars who are able to bridge the academy and speak to the fan audiences about their research. I would love to do something similar.”

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What We Save and What We Abandon: A Chat about Ruins and their Social Value

By: Niki Fritz

A view from above of the limestone pyramid ruin.

Up by Bedford, there is a half-completed/ half-uncompleted pyramid. While walking along the limestone slabs with weeds and flowers now poking through the crevices, it looks like a haphazard stone park of some sort. But from above you can see the outline of a pyramid, a human-made one. Back in the 80’s, the now-deserted pyramid began as a project partially funded by the government and partially by the local community. It was meant to display the beauty of one of Indiana’s most prevalent natural resources: limestone. But due to lack of funding, the structure was never finished. And now it sits, weeds seeping through, a ruin.

A glimpse of the pyramid from the ground, which Saul took while exploring the ruins.

A glimpse of the pyramid from the ground, which Saul took while exploring the ruins.

“People call it a folly, an example of government waste. It is interesting to think of that failure of the pyramid when we talk about the history of limestone in Indiana. Limestone surrounds us every day on this campus,” explains Saul Kutnicki, a first year PhD student in Communication and Culture. “[Ruins] are also a way into thinking about history in a way we didn’t do before, to question something that we encounter daily. It is interesting that ruins can be a failure or something to be preserved. There is some sort of culture consensus about what ruins matter and what don’t, about what is sacred and what is not.”

For Saul, ruins weren’t always his primary interest. He came into the program as a MA student interested in film and media studies and gradually began to integrate rhetoric into his work.

“The intersection between film & media and rhetoric & public culture is an important component of my work. This was the impulse behind participating in the interdisciplinary opportunities afforded in CMCL, opportunities that I hope to carry on taking and sharing in the Media School,” Saul explains.

The ideas of ruins interested Saul so much because of their pervasiveness in the media today.

“[Ruins] are kind of a big deal right now. Anyone who is on social media knows ruins are big. There is always some part of Detroit that is being depicted,” according to Saul. “Ruins are such a part of our everyday language. We talk about ruined relationships, ruined careers … What are the things we deem ruins and what does that mean.”

Saul Kutnicki

His work with the rhetorical criticism and images of ruins led Saul to think of the ethics of ruins, which in turn led him to apply for the Poynter Center’s Jesse Fine Fellowship.  Fine Fellowships support the creation of course curriculum that specifically address ethics in classes developed for undergraduate students. In the “Ethics of Ruins” course Saul is developing as a Fine Fellow, he has several objectives.

First, he hopes to help students establish their own archives of ruins and to give them a broader understanding of the history of ruins. Traditionally we think of ruins as things that are a) old and b) part of our heritage, but Saul wants students to expand this narrow definition to encompass what are ruins in their own lives or in their communities or in the larger world.

Next, Saul seeks to encourage students to place the ruins into a narrative, not just looking for similarities in structures or locations but similarities in the value and metaphor, the ruin represents. To illustrate this point, he pointed to the difference in how we treat ruins and slums, going to great lengths to preserve the former and not hesitating to tear down the latter.

“What do we save? What don’t we save? What films do we protect? What buildings do we protect? What value to be attribute to ruins? We assign value according to certain social values,” Saul explains. “Ruins are a good place to start thinking about our values.”

Finally, Saul wants his students to make something out of their ruins, whether that be a film, a photo essay or some sort of multimedia presentation. From his course proposal, Saul explains:

“In my teaching, I strive to provide students with an opportunity to hitch their own intellectual wagon to the ideas, concepts, and problems presented in the course material. The course will be designed to help students carve their own path according to their individual productive or creative impulses. Thus students will be asked to develop individual or group projects that demonstrate critical writing skills, visual storytelling and public speaking.”

The Joy of Composting

By: Niki Fritz

Spring is in the air and nothing says spring time to me like a good ole fashion heap of decaying vegetables, coffee grounds and leaves. Or at least that is what spring time means to me now after talking to Glenna about the beautiful process of recycling old food waste into fertilizer for gardening.

The fantastic homemade compost bin ala Glenna and Ben

The fantastic homemade compost bin ala Glenna and Ben

I had heard about composting before but never really seen it in action until Glenna invited me over to her perfectly charming house in Prospect Hill, where she and her partner Ben have not one but TWO compost bins.

“We lived in an apartment in Indy last year so we couldn’t compost,” Glenna explains. “When we moved here we had the perfect space for it. There was no excuse not to do it here.”

Their place is perfect for composting. At the back of their little two-bedroom bungalow, they have an old un-used garage, where they store leaves collected in fall. Behind the garage they store their two large compost bins, out of street view and away from interested dogs. Next to the garage there is a small gardening plot, which stands to benefit from the fertilizer they create.  A compost bin could not ask for a better home than at Ben and Glenna’s.

Ben dumping scraps of "green" into the compost bin

Ben dumping scraps of “green” into the compost bin

The whole process is easier than you might think.

“I assumed it was going to be stinky and that it would be a lot of work. I read a lot about it and it seemed intimidating. There were a lot of instructions and a whole list of things not to do,” Glenna says. “But really it is easier than you think. It seems daunting but you really can’t mess it up.”

Ben and Glenna took the simplest approach to composting. They bought a big round cheap plastic garbage can. Then they drilled a bunch of holes all around it. They put some old leaves in the new compost bin and then started adding their table scraps. The bin is raccoon-proofed with a simple bungee cord over the top. They propped it up on two concrete slabs to allow air flow through the bottom of the bin.

Ben "turning' the compost bin which basically means rolling it around on the ground.

Ben “turning’ the compost bin which basically means rolling it around on the ground.

The most “difficult” part of the whole process is turning the compost bin every few weeks or so. This basically entails Ben hoisting the bin off the concrete blocks and then rolling it around the yard a few times. This mixes up all the old leaves and food and encourages the particles to break down.

Besides being really hippy-chic and giving them free fertilizer, Glenna and Ben point out it is extra good for the environment.

“The foods that get thrown into landfills make methane gas which is really bad for the environment. If you compost, it’s not as bad because all the methane gas is not contained within the plastic-lined sealed landfill. You get to put waste back to the earth instead of just letting it sit in a landfill,” Glenna explains. “Plus it reduces the CO2 released by garbage trucks because we are making less waste.”

“It has really reduced our waste that goes to the landfill,” Ben agrees. “And the garbage never really stinks that much because all the food is in the compost.”

If you are still on the fence about whether or not this composting thing is a good idea, Ben has these final words for you:

“Take the plunge and just do it,” Ben says. “Really, it’s not that hard.”

Five tips to start your composting adventure

Although it is relatively easy to start a compost, now that Ben and Glenna are the official resident experts, they do have a few tips to help you along the way.

The kitchen bin with notes on what you can and cannot put in the compost bin

The kitchen bin with notes on what you can and cannot put in the compost bin

  1. Remember the 3:1 ratio; three “brown items” (aka leaves, old newspapers, dryer lint, coffee grounds) to every one “green item” (aka vegetables scraps, fruit peels).
  2. Don’t put any meat, fats, dairy items or oils in your heap, even if they are vegetables that were fried in oil.
  3. Don’t put onions in your compost because they can make the heap stinky.
  4. Get a kitchen bin! It’s just a little bin that sits in your kitchen to collect scraps. Then when it is full, take the little bin and dump it into your big bin. It’s also helpful to put lists of what can and can’t go into the compost heap on your kitchen bin in case you forget.
  5. Use a cheap garbage can; no need to be fancy for composting people!

Rob’s Measurement Book Goes International

By: Niki Fritz

Back in 2011, when Rob Potter was on sabbatical in Australia, he decided to finally get serious about writing a book about psychophysiological measures. He and Paul Bolls had been under contract to write such a book for a while but the muse just hadn’t visited the authors yet.

“It took a lot longer than I thought it would. It’s hard to write a book,” Rob explains. “Eventually you just don’t want to fail, so you say ‘Let’s just get it done!’ You don’t want to say you started and never finished.”

The timing was right as well. The price of equipment used to gather physio data was dropping and more scholars were starting to use these quantitative measures; and some of them were using them incorrectly. In effect, the academic world was becoming more and more open to physio data and it needed a best practices book.

Even though Rob had been wanting to write such a book for a while, sitting down in Australia to finish it was particularly difficult.

“Part of the reason it took so long is because, for me, there was a real psychological hurdle to feel like I had the expertise to write [this book]. There is some arrogance in saying, ‘Hi. This is how you do this correctly.’ That was a struggle for me,” Rob explains.

He went on to explain there were definitely some areas he was well versed in, and was comfortable saying he was an expert. But other measures he was less comfortable with. “There were areas I knew less about. I couldn’t fudge the answers,” Rob says. “And I couldn’t just delete that topic because I didn’t get it. So I had to learn.”


Rob’s book in three languages: English, Chinese, and Japanese

Eventually, after overcoming his mental hurdle and leaning a bit more about some new measures, Rob and Paul published the book Psychophysiological Measurement and Meaning.

Soon after that, Rob started getting requests to translate it, especially into Chinese. Since the publisher owns the rights to the book, it was up to Routledge to get the book translated.

“I just trust Routledge that it was translated correctly,” Rob laughs. “I’m assuming they are correct. I have no idea what they actually say … When I’ve handed the book to JingJing or Ya and asked them to read a page, it sounded right to me.”

This year the book was translated into yet another language – Japanese. Rob’s physio measures best practices are becoming global best practices; something that – although Rob isn’t the type to brag about it – is pretty cool.

“When it took so long to get it done, what was really pushing me was that someone was going to scoop me. To be the one who did it first and the only one to do it so far, that is pretty cool,” Rob says. “Now to see [the book] has international appeal is gratifying. And it makes for cool Instagram pictures.”